Aram Gharabekian (far right) conducting the Open Music Fest Orchestra. Photo by Raffi Hadidian.
Aram Gharabekian (far right) conducting the Open Music Fest Orchestra. Photo by Raffi Hadidian.

LOS ANGELES — On September 21, when the world watched the dramatic arrival of Space Shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles, the welcoming ceremony at LAX was made all the more unforgettable as it included breathtaking artistic performances led by maestro Aram Gharabekian. The program, comprising music and dance presentations throughout the arrival ceremony, featured the Open Music Fest Orchestra, tenor Steve Amerson, and choreographer Aida Amirkhanian and the Open Music Fest dancers.
In the months prior to Endeavour’s arrival in Los Angeles, the Open Music Society Foundation (OMSF) worked closely with the City of Los Angeles and the California Science Center, the spacecraft’s new home, to design an integrated artistic program for the arrival ceremony. The innovative concept that resulted was developed jointly by Aram Gharabekian, the OMSF’s artistic director and conductor, and a dedicated artistic and production team. The artistic presentations at the arrival ceremony would mark the performance debuts of the OMSF.
The arrival ceremony, held at an United Airlines hangar at LAX, was attended by some 600 guests, among them several elected officials. Dignitaries who delivered remarks at the event included Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Inglewood mayor James Butts, and California Science Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rudolph. The event’s mistress of ceremonies was actress Nichelle Nichols, of Star Trek fame.
Toward noon, the ceremony’s artistic program kicked off with a highly spirited flash-mob dance performance inside the hangar, featuring the Open Music Fest Dancers led by Aida Amirkhanian. The dancers, dressed as VIPs, performed to a specially created soundtrack, with works by Richard Strauss, James Brown, and Aaron Copland, as well as a recording of the poem “The Early Morning in Space,” recited by its author, Hilaire Belloc.
During the dance performance, employees and volunteers from the California Science Center and United Airlines joined the flash mob. As the shuttle-arrival countdown began and the hangar gate opened, gradually revealing the ceremony stage outside, the flash mob concluded its performance with a grand finale. The dancers then ran outside, inviting the guests to follow to their seats across the bleachers and the VIP section.
Subsequently the attendees watched Endeavour’s majestic aerial spin over Los Angeles landmarks on a Jumbotron screen, and were awed by the spectacular sight of the shuttle flying overhead.
NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, carrying Endeavour, touched down to the glorious strokes of timpani, bass drum, and tam-tam, the opening of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Offstage, trumpets and horns played the opening phrase of the fanfare while the Open Music Fest Orchestra musicians joined the percussion in front of the podium. It was at this juncture, as Endeavour and its host aircraft taxied toward the hangar, that Gharabekian approached the orchestra and conducted the fanfare. With the climax of the fanfare, the shuttle came to its final halt in front of the guests.
“It was a profoundly humbling experience to conduct Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ while Endeavour took its last few steps before coming to a spectacular stop,” Gharabekian said. “I will never forget the expression and emotions of the musicians and guests at this larger-than-life sight of man’s scientific triumph. I was deeply moved by the historic moment, and will always treasure the enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment which our musicians, dancers, and the entire OMSF team brought to this unique celebration.”
As VIP passengers deplaned from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, tenor Steve Amerson took the stage to deliver an a cappella performance of “America the Beautiful.” He was soon joined by the brass and percussion of the Open Music Fest Orchestra. During the third verse of the song, guests joined in at the encouragement of Amerson and Gharabekian.
Alina Koutnouyan, executive producer of the ceremony’s artistic program and COO of the OMSF, said, “As commented on by several news networks, the music and performances created a profound moment of grandeur for Endeavour’s arrival. The historical significance of the moment will forever be remembered each time we hear Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’”
“What a sight: Shuttle Endeavour with all its history and might, approaching, as the Open Music Fest Orchestra delivered a powerful fanfare, timed perfectly to climax as the spacecraft came to a halt,” Koutnouyan continued. “We are proud of the talented artists who performed at the arrival ceremony: Aida Amirkhanian and her dancers’ celebratory kick-off inside the hangar, Aram Gharabekian’s commanding selection for and conducting of the orchestra, and Steve Amerson’s powerful salute to one of this country’s greatest achievements.”
“The union of the shuttle’s arrival and the OMSF performances was simply awe-inspiring,” stated OMSF founding Board member and CFO Varand Gourjian.
On her part, choreographer Aida Amirkhanian said, “Time stood still and everything became perfect as the shuttle did its last majestic dance to the dignified music played by the orchestra. It was a magnificent experience to watch the birth of the OMSF as Endeavour was retiring. The beginning and the end united to create a rare moment of universal perfection. It was one of the most beautiful choreographies I have ever seen: so instinctive, so resplendent, so dignified, so perfect.”

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